You probably know who I am, the perpetual bridesmaid; in everyone’s wedding but never married, yet! I’m the life of the party. Everyone likes to be with me. Everyone.
Even Jesus, that prophet from Galilee the rulers hated so much. He liked me. No, he loved me. But not like anyone else ever did. He did not want anything from me. He wanted me to be, well, good. Free from sin, you know.
But I never did anything really bad. They only said so to make me look foolish. But I am no one’s fool. I knew all about them, I listened to their secrets. I let them believe I was safe. But I played them all against one another. Then one day, I must have made one of them mad, because what happened could have been fatal.
It was the Feast of Booths. Everyone was living outdoors for a whole week; on the rooftops or in the inner courts of the biggest homes. Beautiful tents were everywhere. Food and wine was plentiful. There was music and dancing. Groups of us went from house to house helping ourselves to the rich food, playing silly games with the children, laughing at the antics of the drunken men, playing pranks and falling in with any scheme that promised to be fun.
The priests went about their dreary duties of sacrificing the 70 bulls, one for each of the nations of the world. Then came, the last day of the feast, the eighth day, the day when only one bull for all of Israel, God’s chosen, would be sacrificed and then the waters of the earth would be blessed for another year of good harvest. This was the best day and also the most fun, if you knew where to find it!
I was at Jesse’s house with a group of friends. He was drunk. He pulled me out of the crowd and into his tent. He sang me a silly song he had made up. Suddenly, two of Jesse’s “friends” rushed into the tent, grabbed me by the hair, dragged me out into Jesse’s courtyard, and started shouting horrible words at me. They called me a whore. They said I would die for destroying Jesse’s reputation. They pushed me around and got the whole crowd worked up against me. But what had I done that they had not? We were all being silly during the feast. The next day Jesse wouldn’t even remember what happened.
But, the next day these same men came and got me from my home and marched me to see a prophet they had some problem with. They were using me to get him to make some awful mistake that would allow them to kill him. They bartered my life for his. They lied about me to him, saying I had committed adultery and they lied about the law saying I would have to be stoned. [Even I know that stoning is reserved for those who commit adultery while engaged to be married. I had not had that good fortune. If I had done the deed, I should have been strangled instead. But I shudder to think of that.]
What did this prophet Jesus, say? Well, he could see right through them. And at first he did not want to be part of their schemes. Then, when they kept pestering him, he looked at them, not at me, and said, “Whoever among you is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” Well, that gave them something to think about. Who among them, indeed, had not kissed someone else’s wife or thought about it during that last week of feasting and carousing? I knew each one of them. I knew their secrets. Jesus looked back at the ground, wouldn’t look at them. But I looked at them. I started with Jesse. Yes, he was right up in the front of the whole accusing crowd. I stared at him, he turned away ashamed. Then, one by one, each of the other men looked away from my eyes and melted into the crowd.
When they had all left, Jesus stood up and asked me if no one had stayed to accuse me. I said a saucy, “No!”
With a heavy sigh he looked at me, right into me. He said, “Neither do I condemn you.” And then he shook me up with another penetrating look, “Go, and stop sinning.”
Me? I’m the life of the party. I don’t really “sin.” I just have fun. But, you know, he got me thinking…I just couldn’t shake that look.
I guess I was looking for revenge when I went to them. I was so mad at Jesus. I don’t know what got into him. It was as if he was giving up on us. And the days leading up to Passover had been full of anxiety, always on the move, restless nights, barely any food to eat between the twelve of us. It seemed like any money that we received was spent as quickly as it came in. I longed for the security of even half a bag of coins at least for a day or two. Just once couldn’t I go to sleep without someone whispering to me, “Judas, do we have any money to buy food tomorrow?”
A few days ago, they came to visit me. They gave me, their Roman Governor, Pilate, notice that they were going to arrest some guy named Jesus because he was a blasphemer. I never had much patience with those Pharisees and scribes. Radicals and intellectuals. I was much more concerned with Rome—Rome, now was so much more important that any local struggles. The Pharisees kept pestering me about this Jesus and his blasphemy but I didn’t pay much attention to it, they were always after someone or other because of heresy. It was no secret to them that I hated my job or that it was a punishment. I had been caught blackmailing a centurion back in Rome, and they sent me to do my time out in this ratty, out of the way, desert village, ruling over a bunch of uncivilized crazy dogmatists. I had arrived full of hatred for everyone, even for Rome (though I hardly can bear to say that any more).
Of course I hated the people I had been given to govern. As hard as herding a bunch of cats. I tried to do a good job the first couple of years, but gave up after that. I mean, they had their own leaders, they all hated me too, and they didn’t want Rome sticking its long nose in their business. I guess I can’t blame them, but we, that is, Rome, needed to civilize and govern them. It was what we were for! Where would they be, had they not our hand to gently guide them along? I’ll tell you where. Back under crazy kings, like Herod, and more likely still stuck under Seleucid rule! They should have been grateful to us for presiding over them!
Anyway, I got used to it for a while. That’s what everyone else said, all the other governors who were out there. Everyone dulls down, I forgot that I hated Rome, and learned to love her again, because you have to work hard not to be dragged down to the Jews’ level.
Oh how I love feasts! My favorite, of course, is the feast of Booths. So much food! So much fun! My second favorite though, is Passover. This one promises to be interesting. That Jesus who saved my life has come to Jerusalem again, this time he made a big splash. He rode into the city on a donkey. Kind of funny really, because riding on a donkey doesn’t really make you much taller than the rest of the walking pilgrims. But at least the walkers move out of the way. But they didn’t move. They just got really excited to see him. They waved branches and shouted at him like he was the next king of Israel or something. (That’s sure to stir things up over at the governor’s palace. I’ve been over there. A friend of mine’s a Roman prefect or something and he took me to see the public hearing rooms. It’s a beautiful house with marble tiles on the floor and painted ceilings and walls. There is a pool right inside the courtyard where the household fish are kept. Easy eating.)
But, you know what? Jesus is going to Simon’s house for dinner tonight, you know which one, the rich leper--unclean as Naaman but richer than almost anybody in Jerusalem. Jesus accepted his dinner invitation and then everyone else did, too. Mostly to see what Jesus will do or say, I guess. Maybe, they think he’ll cure Simon. Anyway, Simon’s finally getting the attention he craves. I’m going too. I’ve not told anyone. I kind of want to thank him for saving my life. I’ve got this perfume, see, Jesse gave it to me but I don’t want it after what he did at the Feast of Booths, and I’m going to give it to Jesus. Maybe he can sell it or something, use it for his campaign.
And then there was the night we were at Simon’s house and that women poured her ointment all over Jesus. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And He commended her for her waste; said she would be remembered the world over for what she did for him. I knew the value of that ointment and it sure would have helped this sorry lot of vagabonds if she would have given it to us. I would have sold it so that we could live in comfort and security for a change.
Although, it may not have made much difference anyway. Things were changing; it was like something was just waiting to happen that would change everything. There was a lot of tension between us; gone were the days of excitement and wonder that we knew in the early days with Jesus. It was replaced with bickering about any little thing; who’s going to carry the packs today. “Not me, I did it yesterday, it’s your turn today” “No way, I don’t have to carry it until tomorrow, it’s his turn today."
And Jesus kept referring to his death. He said that that woman was preparing his body for burial because he was going to die. You know the thing that gets me so mad is that he could do something to get out the mess he’s in with the chief priests and elders; perform one of his miracles or something. But maybe he’s getting tired of this life; us disciples, all the crowds, the doubt, the questions, the criticism. Still, that’s no reason to walk out on us. He was the one that brought us together in the first place. He can’t just leave us. What are we going to do without him?
I crashed Simon’s party with perfume in hand. But as I got near Jesus, he looked at me again. He looked at me and split me wide open. He knew me, deeply as the fun-loving, carefree, moocher who is needy, selfish, and longing for someone to know me, to love me. It was the same look he gave me seven months ago when he set me free and gave me back my life; that clear gaze that pierced my guarded heart and unleashed a flood of tears.
I was going to make a cute presentation of the perfume to him knowing that Jesse would be there to see and get jealous. But, then, with Him looking at me, I couldn’t. I forgot the words I had prepared. I just started pouring the whole bottle of the precious oil over his beautiful head. It ran down his beard and onto his robe. It glistened in his hair and permeated the whole house with a musky, heady fragrance.
He could do something if he wanted to. He doesn’t even care; says it has to be this way.
I know what it feels like to be abandoned and rejected and that’s not going to happen to me again. Not if I can help it. I’ll get rid of him myself before he walks out on me.
The chief priests sure made it easy. I was just asking a question, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” I was more curious than serious. But before I knew it they were handing me money and making a plan to capture him. I left shaking my head wondering what had just happened. The money jangling in my pocket made it real; I had just agreed to betray Jesus.
So, back to this Jesus fellow; I didn’t think much of him at first, just another crazy Jew. I went to bed with nothing on my mind that night. The next morning, however, was different. They brought him before me at some ungodly hour. I would have been in bed long after I had to deal with this man. But, I’m glad, ultimately, that I got up. He said some of he strangest, and indeed most interesting, things that I had ever heard. He wouldn’t stick up for himself, after he told us that we said he was the king of the Jews (a ridiculous assertion, by the way, I never said that, they did), He wouldn’t say a thing. And he was mocked, and slapped; he didn’t do anything.
Then for the crowd, I did my duty. I gave them who they wanted, but made sure they knew that I had no part in, nor endorsed, their choice. I was warned by my wife not to have anything to do with Jesus, so I was wary, and washed my hands of the affair. This Jesus man struck me as so vital. Why did they want to do away with him? But, as they say, vox populi, vox dei, (the people’s voice is the voice of god). They wanted me to release Barabbas, so I gave them Barabbas.
Why did I dump the whole bottle of ointment on his head? I don’t know, really. Jesus said I did it to prepare him for his burial. But I’ve been too close to death with him already. I don’t want to die. I don’t want him to die! What am I saying? How could I do that? Who am I to anoint him for burial? O God, what have I done?
It was as if I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Something greater than me was taking over. Jesus kept saying himself that this is all happening so that scripture could be fulfilled. “One of you is going to betray me,” he said. “The Chosen one will go as the scriptures foretold, but woe to the one who will betray me, surely it would be better for that one never to be have been born at all.” “Jesus, it’s not me is it”, they all said. “Surely it is not I, Rabbi,” I said.
Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Why does it have to be this way? I love you Jesus. I don’t want you to die. Please don’t leave me. You can do something. You can stop this madness. Please. Oh, God, what have I done?
Then the Pharisees took Jesus away using my authority to put him to death. That’s the way of it in the provinces, death after death, cross after cross. Doesn’t seem to do much good. But, I wish they hadn’t taken him. He seemed so immune to all of their squabbling! He even made me forget my problems and this asinine assignment to govern the Jews. At least he gave me something interesting to think about. What is truth? O God, what have I done?
O God, what have I done?